Septic tank questions

Discussion in 'Toilet Forum discussions' started by jeremytl, Jun 26, 2007.

  1. jeremytl

    jeremytl Scientist

    durham, nc
    Before I post my questions, I want to make sure this is the appropriate forum... I didn't see any other forum with septic tank in the title. Thanks
  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    Ah, just go ahead and a moderator can move it if necessary!
  3. jeremytl

    jeremytl Scientist

    durham, nc
    septic tank

    Several questions concerning my septic system:

    We are in a dry spell. The shape of my septic tank is outlined in a perfect square with lush green grass surrounded by browner, less lush veg. I anticipate this is fluids coming up from the tank. Is this typical or should I be on the phone right now with a septic tank pump company? There is no odor, the toilet flushes fine and all drains have no back-up. Also, it did the same thing last summer.

    General Maintenance:
    1) How often should it be pumped? 1, 2 years?
    2) How much does it cost, <ballpark> for pumping?
    3) Is it worth using products like rid-x? (i anticipate a multitude of mixed feelings on this matter!)
    4) Lastly, there is a 4" stick up capped pvc "cleanout" located some distance away from the tank. I don't think its in the leachfield. The previous owner told me before I bought the house that I need to drop chlorine tabs into every six months. Why is this AND where in the heck can I find those in a small amount? I can only find them in huge amounts, like 20 year supplies.

    Much thanks for input on these matters!
  4. prashster

    prashster New Member

    I'm no pro, so caveat reader:

    I don't think your tank is leaking. The same thing happens on mine, and it was just pumped and inspected this spring. I wonder if the breakdown in the tank causes higher levels of nitrogen outside of the tank that superfertilizes the grass above.

    1) It depends on the size of yr tank and how many people live in the house. Typically, it's 2-3 years.
    2) $300-500 in my area of NJ.
    3) I was told no. The key to good septic operation and life is not overloading yr tank with too much water (more than 1-2 loads laundry a day etc), not using a garbage disposer, and not putting undilutables (like sanitary napkins) in there.
    4) See 3.
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2007
  5. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    According to Erma Bombeck, the grasss is *always* greener over the septic tank!

    My guess is that you have a two-piece tank and simply that the two halves are not sealed perfectly. Hence, some drainage could be seeping out all around the tank and watering the nearby grass. Unless you have a shallow (ground water) well too close to the tank, I would not worry about that.

    As often as it takes to keep any crust (if there even is any) from becoming too thick and hardened on top, and to keep sludge (settled solids) at the bottom knocked down. And of course, the size of the tank, the demand placed upoin it and various other factors play in here.

    A reputable and nearby pumper will likely come out and inspect your system, pump the tank and explain everything to you for possibly something like $100.00 or so.

    Unless you are running a lot of wash water (gray water) into a too-small septic tank, there should already be plenty of stuff in there to break everything down. And if there is not, it would be far more effective to re-direct the wash water elsewhere than to dump boxes of dollars into the tank.

    It could be an inspection hole above the distribution box.

    I have never heard of any such thing, but maybe someone told him that would somehow help the leach field.

    One thing you definitely should have is a filter in the output end of your septic tank to keep solids (lint and such) from going out into the leach field, and this yellow one is the one I use in each of my tanks as well as to filter the discharge in my gray-water line:
    Last edited: Jun 27, 2007
  6. jeremytl

    jeremytl Scientist

    durham, nc
    much thanks fellas!

    much appreciative, I am
  7. achutch

    achutch New Member

    My seasonal camp "further up the mountain" as my neighbors refer to it, has a 1000 gallon septic tank that services two 7 gallon gusher toilets and a lavatory. I have a gray water system for the kitchen and the tub and sink in the inside bathroom. The area where the tank is, is bone dry with only a little grass growing in that spot. The area across the road where the leach tank is is grass and moss covered, but is far from lush. But, there are no leaks or odors other than from the two vents, and only at certain times.

    I do use an additive, a 2-month treatment, starting May 1 through mid-October. I try not to put chlorine bleach into the septic tank, and clean the toilets with pine oil, or an acid bowl cleaner.

    I would think normal use of chlorine bleach in an occasional wash load would be OK, but I would never deliberately dose the tank or the leach lines with chlorine, as I would think that would interfere with the biological action in the tank and leach field that breaks down the waste.

    On the same line, the owner of the septic service who installed my tank told me not to put solids from the cat box down the toilet because the bacteria in the cat waste would also raise havoc with the normal bacteria in the tank. So the cat waste goes to an in ground waste disposal system rather than the toilet.

    "achutch" up here on the Spine of the Green Mountains
  8. North Carolina State University has done extensive research on septic systems, and recommends that tanks be pumped out at least every 5 years (I have mine pumped out each year ending with 0 or 5).
    A minimum, basic system here is a 1,000-gallon tank, a distribution box, and 210' of drainfield. For certain types of soils and increased usage (more than a 3-bedroom home), they add drainfield line length.
    NCSU research says that all of those additives are a total waste of money. Normal usage should supply all of the bacteria necessary for it to function properly. I happen to have a lot of landscaping growing over or near my drainfield, so I flush a cup or two of copper sulphate crystals down a toilet about 3 times a year to help keep the roots out.
    Here, it costs $250 to have a tank pumped and inspected.
    Try not to flush solids (cig filters, feminine products, food chunks), grease, oils, excess bleach or caustics, paint, etc. down. Personally, I wouldn't put bleach tablets into a system, even an inspection pipe (that is NOT a clean-out...clean-outs here are on tanks only).
    The best policy is to only flush human waste, waste (gray) water and toilet tissue into a septic system. We always pour grease, oils, etc. and wipe out skillets and pans into the trash, for instance.
    Contact your local Health Department permitting agency for the record of your system (design and location sketch and system description) and for local maintenance advice. It will vary from area to area.
    Good Luck!
  9. jeremytl

    jeremytl Scientist

    durham, nc

    this is all great info fellas. thanks.

    as far as contacting the local county office health dept... what if they don't have a record b/c it was done so long ago (1965) or whoever built it didn't get a permit and it was installed illegally? then i may have to pick up the costs etc..?
  10. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    I have done as Mike has suggested to you: Just go ask what records are there. In my own case, there were none ... so I just thanked them for looking and went on my way.

    If there is a record and your system seems to have been updated or changed without a permit before you came into the picture, I cannot imagine you being required to do anything other than to take care of any necessary corrections if/when you might later ask for a permit to do any work on the system (or have work done) and it is then subject to inspection.
  11. Gary Slusser

    Gary Slusser That's all folks!

    The grass is greener due to the tank top collecting precipitation as it percolates down through the soil and not allowing it to go deeper than the roots of the grass where they can't use it.

    That 'clean out' may be for a secondary tank. I suggest you call local septic tank pumper guys and run that pipe by them. You normally don't want or need chlorine in the septic tank or leach field.
  12. molo

    molo Member

    cold new york
    Lets get to the bottom of septic systems... Yuck!
    As we all know they are designed to filter waste so that pollution of the ground/water doesn't occur. Also, septic tanks are almost always full to the outlet with water and solids on the bottom.
    When new installations are speced out by the health dpt, they are based on the EXISTING DRAINANGE. This is very important to help you understand your septic system. For example... I know folks on gravel drainage, that have only pumped their tank once in 18 years, this is common for folks with gravel drainage around here. With a properly functioning, bacterially active septic tank, this is possible. So make sure you need to pump before you go on a schedule of spending $300/year. Now, the other extreme is clay. This is when you are required to put in extensive drainage/leach fields and absorption beds. If you do not filter the water on it's way out (like leejosepho said) you can ruin one of these 15k systems in a couple of short years. The pore spaces in the sand will become filled with solids and the sand will become useless. bye-bye 10-15k. I would play it safe with an extensive system like this in clay, and pump it as is suggested for your system.
    New York State will not guarantee the systems, they will only tell you how long they "should" last. They say around 20 years here. Even on the brand new systems here, there is expected to be damp areas at the edge of the absorption beds after alot of company. (I had my system speced for an update by a county worker 2 weeks ago, and he told me that). Also it is common to see lush grass and wet spots at the very end of the absorption beds. This too, is common, and according to the county health dpt. worker is supposed to be drinkable. Although he told me he wouldn't drink it! So what the heck is the point of the 15k system? Anyway, they are not perfect, and are all unique, knowing your ground, and existing system will help.
    As far as green grass, is it only over the tank, and nowhere else? Gary Slusser's explanation is a posibility. If you have a plugged outlet, your water could be leaking out around the tank lid as well. Stay away from the chems.

    Last edited: Jul 10, 2007
  13. Mike50

    Mike50 DIY Senior Member

    Southern California
  14. Rancher

    Rancher Guest

    We were required to put in a leach field inspection pipe, I guess to see if the field was filled up with water or not. Mine got crushed by the subcontractors, it's now underground somewhere.

  15. abikerboy

    abikerboy DIY Senior Member

    Like someone else here said, I have mine pumped every year that ends in an "0" or a "5". Two full time adults, plus weekend children, and the occasional guest here. As for cost...$200 here in Va, but on the other hand, a rental house in West Va that my ex and I owned together, that one only cost me $45!!!!...however it was some backwoods pumper, and I do have the feeling that the "crap" just got dumped over some mountain somewhere instead of it being disposed of properly. As for drainfield size...that changes a lot! I have 12 lines in red clay...each line is 100 feet long. My mom, who lives directly accross the street, has 2 lines that are 25 feet long, while my neighbor next door has 3 lines that "I think" are 50 feet long., and another neighbor has 5 lines, 100 feet long. As for the cleanout after the system has 4 distribution boxes. The first box feeds the other three boxes (none of the drainfield lines feed off of this one), and the other three boxes feed the drainfield lines. The first box has a small pipe with a cap on it to inspect, and to suck out that first box. Also, chlorine is a killer of septic systems. It kills bacteria, and you need bacteria for the system to work. As for additives... in the past, I always used Rid-X, and here's what I was told: "No additive truly beneficial to a septic system has been discovered. The bacteria needed for the system to operate comes from our own bowels and waste." With keeping this in mind, I stopped using the rid-x, and stopped adding the yeast, and the last time the tank was cleaned, the pumper said that the solid layer and the scum layer measured about the same as it always has in the past.
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2007
  16. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    A septic system relies on bacteria to break things down. Chlorine kills bacteria. Seems kind of counter productive to me! One thing that will kill a septic system is not pumping it often enough so that solids get washed out into the field, clogging it up.
  17. Backglass

    Backglass New Member

    New York
    Which brings me to my question:

    My wife is insisting on having a garbage disposal. I have heard it's a bad idea for septic systems...but why? I assume the danger of the disposal is the potential for additional solid buildup. Since disposal matter is organic after all, would pumping every 2 years instead of 5 negate this potential danger? It would be worth it to me to get her off my back. :)
  18. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    New England
    If you pump your tank regularly, yes, you can use one. The problem comes when people grind up things like bones or corncobs, etc. Lots of solid matter that doesn't degrade very fast.

    I grew up in a house with one and a septic system. We never had problems, but the tank was pumped farily regularly.
  19. KennyDash

    KennyDash New Member

    Green grass around tank

    Whatever you, dont use chlorine until you know for sure exactly what type of system you are dealing with. If you do not have a spray type system, be real careful what you put down that pvc pipe out at the drainfield. I have not had a pumpout in 15 years and my sytem is in top shape. I check my baffle and dbox every year and my mound is nice and dry like it should be. Avoid using heavy doses of antibacterial's and also avoid any bacteria killing chemicals like bleach and paint thinner and watch the clotheswasher overuse. Keeping a healthy amount of bacteria in the tanks will eliminate the need for pumpouts(I know this sounds a bit nuts but do some ******** digging on yahoo or google and you will see for yourself what Isay is truth). there are a few good products out there depending on what you need. http://www.ridex.xom sells a low dose maintenance type of bacteria that seems to be ok if you do not have problems and want to prevent future mishaps. There is another company that sells tablets and I think that one is If you have blockages and need to blast the system, call they sell heavy duty restoration products that work like hell.

    Try to get somewhere familiar with systems to look and see what you have and if you have any problems(please keep in mind, most repairmen are going to tell you you need a new system and yes they run like 30k in some areas)..I know this is going to piss of alot of professionals and the neg feedback is going to be rough but do yourself a favor and look into what you need that fitd your system.\

    Best of luck
  20. hosea

    hosea New Member

    Here in Western Mass with lots of gravel, we have our system pumped every election year. It makes it easy to remember that way. We use a garbage disposal, but only for the last bit of items that did not get thrown in the garbage container or compost container. We have been with our system now for 22 years. It is also contructed with the old dry well type, two of them, which I think are no long allowed in Massachusetts. Friends of ours had to replace their leach field and the problem seemed to be liquid fabric softner. We now use dryer cloths in the dryer and no longer use fabric softner.
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